While some newspapers of the world are struggling to remain afloat in this digital world, we do have them to thank for a couple of design conventions. Newspapers set the stage for concepts like fonts and headings as well as the use of images to tell a story. Today’s websites are built using some of the same foundational bricks. It’s all content, after all.
Newspapers also originated a more problematic convention: the fold. As a matter of practicality, newspapers have to be folded in half before hitting a subscriber’s front porch or being stacked at a newsstand. The top half of the front page has a big job to do: sell that paper. So, this is where you will find the day’s most important articles, headlines, and teasers.
The “above the fold” concept also found its way into the world of website design and development. Before the advent of mobile devices, most of us were viewing websites on monitors that weren’t vastly different from each other in size. Therefore, it was possible to place the most critical content at the top of the homepage and have a reasonable level of confidence that site visitors would see it without having to scroll.
Does this theory still apply? Much like the “make my logo bigger” and “make everything pop” requests that web designers sometimes receive, attempting to manipulate content so that most of it is “above the fold” won’t yield you any real results in the long run. When you stop to think about the number of ways that someone can get to a website these days, it starts to make sense that the “fold” will be in a different spot for every user. The site will look different on a desktop computer than it will on a smartphone. And who knows if the user will even land on your homepage first? Not to mention, using smaller devices has trained us all to scroll. Mobile users are accustomed to scrolling (and great content will prompt all users to scroll). If you have a member login or some critical component of your website that must be seen at first glance, there are options for that (it can live in the header, for example). But please don’t lose any sleep over making sure that every bit of content appears at the top of the page. Current website design best practices take all users into consideration and today’s mobile-responsive web designs work great across every device and browser you can think of.
Now that we’ve established that “above the fold” has fallen “off the radar,” are there other web design practices that are outdated? Definitely. Here are a few:
Fear of white space. Clients sometimes have a hard time resisting the urge to fill every visible open space. However, a good designer has an innate understanding of balance. They understand how users navigate a website and will create a design that leads to a great user experience. White space is not wasted space!
Splash/landing pages. For a span of several years, it seemed like every website had a landing page that played a Flash animation. Site visitors were left to search frantically for a “skip” or “enter site” button to get past the splash page.
Pop-ups. Many sites offer a newsletter or offer signup, which often appears in the form of a pop-up. This is generally acceptable, but make sure it doesn’t interfere with the user experience.
Designs that don’t take accessibility into account. Today, having an accessible website is more important than ever. A site visitor with a visual impairment, for example, might have trouble seeing your links if there is not enough contrast with the background. The navigation should not be so convoluted that a visitor with physical challenges has trouble clicking a page. A good web designer keeps up on website design best practices and standards, and accessibility is no exception.
Using images instead of live text. This is a terrible user experience and often doesn't scale well. Using live text is always the best option.
Auto-playing audio. Just ... no.
Trends and tastes come and go, of course. Those splash pages definitely seemed like a good idea at the time. Smoking on airplanes once seemed like a good idea, too. A website should always be viewed as a dynamic (not stagnant!) way to represent your business or organization. While some website conventions will probably always remain (having navigation is certainly handy, for example), it’s also important to be mindful of the fact that most websites do need some freshening up every 1-2 years. So, don’t be afraid to turn a critical eye towards your digital presence and make sure that you’re not using outdated website design practices.
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